Americans accumulate a lot of stuff in their homes (about 300,000 items on average), so it comes as no surprise that many households have trouble keeping things neat and tidy. But how do you control the clutter in a small space or in a tiny home of 400 square feet or less?
Hari Berzins, writer of the blog Tiny House Family, has perfected the art of living small. Although she and her family have recently moved into a more traditional-size home, they lived in just 168 square feet for over four years. A family of four is bound to create clutter in any home, but it’s especially noticeable in such a small space.
“The truth is that you don’t avoid clutter,” Berzins says. “You have to deal with clutter. The kids would come home from school and bring in two backpacks and two lunch boxes, and the house would immediately feel cluttered. They would get in the door and we would have to sort out their school papers. We had to settle that right then and there. You have to stay on top of things.”
To sort the clutter, the family had strategic organizational areas throughout the house, including a couch that doubled as an arts-and-crafts storage area, and another bench right inside the door that stored shoes. A series of hooks held coats, and a basket high on the wall stored blankets for the couch. The dining chairs hung on the wall, and a dining table was neatly folded when not in use.
Like many other tiny homes, the Berzins’ had sleeping lofts, which were huge space savers. While Berzins and her husband Karl had a traditional ladder that led up to their loft, the kids had a climbing wall to save space on one side of the tiny home.
A clutter-control system
Even with every free inch of space in the home being used for storage, belongings would inevitably start to pile up. The family adopted an ingenious system for dealing with those items.
“We each had our own drawer that we called the clutter cabinet,” Berzins says. “Anything that was lying around the house would be put in that family member’s drawer. Once the drawer was overflowing, we would have to go through it.
“You have to have a system for clutter,” she adds. “It’s not like life is suddenly free of stuff.”
Because the house was so small, Berzins didn’t have much room to decorate, so she instead relied on her storage solutions to provide beauty in the space. She made sure that her storage was attractive, using pretty items like Mason jars for storing supplies in the kitchen and bathroom. These containers brought color into the home – and doubled as clutter-clearers.
Although the Berzins have moved out of their tiny home and into a larger home nearby, their tiny home is still constantly evolving to fit the space needs of its inhabitants. The home is currently being remodeled so it can accommodate their families and, eventually, Airbnb guests.
Because the space is changing, its creative storage solutions will change along with the needs of guests, including under-the-bed storage for suitcases, a drop-down Murphy bed, and a table/desk that will fold down from the wall as needed.
The clutter-busting solutions Berzins and her family found are common among tiny home dwellers. One like-minded individual is Alex Pino, expert on tiny homes and creator of the blog Tiny House Talk. He’s passionate about living smaller, and is a proponent of living clutter-free.
Pino, who has lived in houses as small as 400 square feet and as large as 1,400 square feet, says that clutter stems from the sheer number of things that everyone owns.
“Most of us have a lot of stuff we don’t use,” Pino says. “It’s about taking one weekend to let go of that stuff and notice what you have that you like. Choose a place in your home to put those things.”
For expert advice on decluttering, Pino often turns to Marie Kondo’s legendary book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” which aims to change the relationship that people have with their belongings.
Pino also suggests cutting down on clutter by eliminating all sources of paper. Although he’s a fan of books, he’s now switched to an e-reader, and makes sure to store any important documents in digital formats.
Finally, before you go out and purchase items for yourself, be sure to look at your storage to see what you can eliminate to make space for your new belongings.
Although getting rid of your possessions isn’t always easy, it has its benefits. For example, paring down has considerably cut down on the time that Pino spends on housework, which averages about 20 minutes.
Ultimately, though, eliminating clutter in any size space begins with changing your relationship to your belongings.
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